Restaurant Dining Guide to Darwin

It might be the smallest of our capital cities, but in many ways Darwin feels more like a touch of Indonesia, rather than holidaying in Australia. It boasts some of the best South East Asian food. It is an interesting city; make sure you check out the different places on Mitchell or Smith Street, take time to chill out in a pub beer garden, enjoy a snack in a laneway eatery or make a beeline for the night markets at Mindil. After a week in Darwin these restaurants are our must-do for your trip!

Ella by Minoli

Along an alley and beside a multi story carpark a sign points to ‘Ella’, Hurrah! We have found it. The small laneway has a beautiful forest scape mural along one side and tropical plants on the other. Diners are securing their spots at outside tables. Stepping inside the restaurant, the place is already buzzing.

The walls are lined with narrow slats of timber, decorated with brightly painted traditional Sri Lankan masks. Overhead planters are bursting with greenery and the bartenders are shaking up a storm as we take our seats in the main belly of the restaurant. Followers of Masterchef may remember Minoli De Silva who wowed the judges with food from her Sri Lankan heritage, Ella is a tribute to her past and future.

The Masterchef winning dish: Curry Leaf Cured Snapper

One of the winning dishes of the season was ‘curry leaf cured snapper’. It’s a dish I can’t forget and want to get on a plane to taste it again! The plate is a riot of greens and creams. A vivid green curry leaf oil, is fragrant with spices and it surrounds a creamy coconut dressing layered with slices of sweet snapper and fried curry leaves. One spoonful brings on brain fireworks, the pop of finger lime, heat of the curry oil and the soothing sweetness of the dressing, oh! and then that snapper. It is, quite simply, a masterpiece of creativity and flawless execution. I feel sorry for the dishes to follow after this experience!

The salmon betel leaf is a fun, popable morsel bursting with flavour from crispy shallots, ginger and coconut. The whitebait are heavily dusted with spices each bite has a kick of its own, whilst split South Australian King Prawns are majestic doused in Sri Lankan spiced butter. Ella’s is also notable for its cocktails with a Sri Lankan twist, the wine list is thoughtful and a Riesling Freak from SA is the perfect wine to match the spices along with a Stella Bella Chardonnay from Margaret River.

Mains of Salmon, roti, eggplant and more!

Mains continue the inspirational journey through the region. The roti has a real attitude. Rather than being traditionally soft and moveable, this is crispy and stands to attention on its own. Twice cooked eggplant (fried and then slow cooked) is silky deliciousness, retaining a slight crunch, with a savoury coconut sauce. A umami laiden beetroot and mushroom coconut curry is topped with a crispy skin salmon, accessorised with a swirl of fresh coconut, fried curry leaves and chilli slices. Ella breaks new ground, it’s courageous, bold and offers dishes most of us have never had before. If there was a foodie reason to visit Darwin, Ella is it.  

Little Miss Korea

Inside LMK

Speak to anyone who has been to Darwin and LMK headed up by celebrity chef, Chung Jae Lee seems to have woven a special place in their hearts (and taste buds). It’s our second night and we can’t wait. It’s famed for its fresh take on Korean Food. Choose from the A La Carte menu or opt for the popular DIY BBQ. Situated along an alleyway, a music festival with pop up food trucks is throwing a dance party next door with big sounds. Inside LMK we are a world away. It’s a huge space, with open brick walls, industrial design and an alien landscape of tubes, black vacuums hanging down from high ceilings over each table. It’s an uber cool space with a huge teacher’s style black board offering  ‘drinks of the week’ and ‘chef specials’. Crispy lotus chips are snacked on eagerly as we work out what to order. A pretty line up of pork dumplings are kissed with a little golden colour topped with matchsticks of pickled beetroot and black sesame seeds. Looks slightly pedestrian, but tastes out of this world. Each bite delivers massive flavours – garlic, ginger and juicy porkiness is bursting their own moves from these innocent looking pockets.

Eggplant tempura looks like a miniature man-made bonfire. Each stick is layered to create a pyramid of flavour drizzled with teriyaki sauce, it’s divine.  A delicate coconut based choo chee sauce is topped with bean sprouts and vegetables along with a sculpturally angled crispy skin NT Barramundi. The Dolsot Prawn Bibimbap is everything a bibimbap should be, but rarely is. The iron skillet is searing hot and the crackles of the rice tell us before even a chopstick has touched the sides that this is going to be good. Layers of egg, rocket, sprouts and sweet prawns are made heavenly by a firm crust of the rice. We add a whiskey sour made with Maker’s Mark and delicious Kloud Malt Beer and we can see why this LMK is food of and for the Seoul. 

Stone House Wine Bar & Kitchen

Steak tartare

They say they are ‘Merchants of Good Times’… and having visited once to review, and then back on our last night, we can honestly say YES it is! Situated in the middle of town. We enter an unassuming doorway and step into a beautiful heritage house that used to be an opium den in the 1880’s. The long bar to our right is decorated in French style palm tree prints. A navy wine wall goes up to the heavens whilst a luminous yellow step ladder is the highlighter that just shouts ‘top row’.

We take our seats in the main room and are drawn to a board of specials which offers beef tartare made from tenderloin. It’s a good menu, offering one of our favourites – smoked mackerel. The paté is divine and the addition of cream cheese gives it a creamy texture. Bruschetta is a twist on the norm with crostini topped with micro chopped tomato, basil, garlic, drizzled with balsamic vinegar. The beer list is OMG insane!! As a lover of craft beers, I haven’t seen anything like this in Sydney and maybe only Cookie in Melbourne comes close. The real surprise is the range of beers from Sweden and Norway with more than a nod to Scotland and the US. Not to be distracted, we kick off with the sparkling section. Kreglinger is a newcomer to the wine by the glass list, but it’s a classy addition from Tasmania and holds its own against champagne as does Arras from the Pipers Brook region.  The Parilian Chardonnay from Adelaide Hills is a classic bridge between two types of chardonnay drinkers. It’s a delightful glass thanks to hand-picked, whole bunch pressed fruit, the free run is  drained and fermented in French oak barrels. The owners spent 10 years in Burgundy and it shows with elegant stone fruit, florals and a long back palate. Next up is the Tempranillo, Grenache by the Ministry of Clouds 2021 from  McLaren Vale. It has a lovely spice, red berries and laid back vibe. We return for the premium wine flight thanks to the Coravin system and taste the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape Mont-Redon 2017 Southern Rhône. It’s a party in a glass with a riot of berries, Middle Eastern spice and cherries. With wine flights up next,  we retire to the tropical ‘wine’ garden to savour our selections.

Curve Restaurant & Bar 

Inside and outside area

We arrive for dinner just after 6.30pm. The sun sets at 6.43pm and we take our seats in the outside area looking out onto the lawns, water and wharf. Some people are lounging on the sofas drinking cocktails, others are sitting up at the high chairs which makes any pretty young things easy to be seen! Our server greets us warmly as we chat about the menu. We have already heard good things about the ‘Sticky licky chicken wings’ with good reason. With a La Gioiosa Prosecco and cold beer in hand a bowl of golden wings arrives. It’s bang on the winner of the night, each wing is coated in a shimmering asian sauce, decorated with sesame seeds which has us licking our fingers in a way that KFC never has.

Three arancini balls are stuffed with prosciutto and brie, and the Szechuan salt calamari rounds out our starters. It’s hard to go past BBQ back ribs ($48) for a half kilo. It’s a stack affair. Chips on the bottom layer with a bridge of ribs over the top, all glossy with house made secret sauce, a single corn on the cob stands upright like a lamppost, dusted with Mexican spices. For our first night in Darwin it’s impossible to go past the NT Humpty Doo barramundi legendary for its clean flavour. It lives up to the promise with a silky coconut pumpkin purée, caramelised fennel,soft charred leek and lemon myrtle beurre blanc sauce. It’s everything in a dish which screams Darwin!

Crustaceans On The Wharf

View from the wharf

Crustaceans is an institution. It has occupied the end of the wharf for over three decades. In an era of restaurants disappearing, it’s wonderful to see something so loved with good reason.  Thanks to a recommendation from Sid, the GM of Adina Waterfront, we have a lovely table overlooking the water. It’s romantic, intimate and as day transitions to evening there is a wonderful buzz in the air. The ferris wheel is turning as the fading sun creates refractional colours across the water, boats and masts. Crustaceans is all about seafood, you come here for the platters (even our taxi driver told us to go). 

In a break from tradition our Seafood Platter Deluxe for two arrives on single layer, no tiered system needed. We tuck into chilled seafood first with six Australian King prawns tucked alongside two South Australian oysters. To the left are spicy Singaporean chilli mussels and a half WA lobster mornay which is perfectly cooked. We then scoot to the right for my favourite part of the meal. Four mornay scallops followed by small ramekins of creamy garlic and creamy chilli prawns served with chips, salad and fruit. The main platter has a small grilled Moreton Bay bug, a fillet of NT local Barramundi with crumbled calamari. All in all, it’s a phenomenal selection and rarely do you have the additions of those creamy hot sauces. The origin of each element of seafood is shared on the menu, something few restaurants do consistently. The platter is perfect with a Blue Moon wheat beer and a Devils Lair Cheeky Sauvignon Blanc. By night couples are taking photos and the gentle hum of conversation, soft waves and breezes are the soundtrack for us to say goodbye to Darwin

Where to stay

Stay at Darwin’s famous waterfront with its restaurants, bars, wave pools, the lagoon and the wharf. Our pick for the area is Adina Apartment Darwin Waterfront. It has the best location on the waterfront and apartment living means you can cook up a storm with all the produce from fresh markets, (or just sit on your balcony and watch the world go by) – see our review here

If you want more space, privacy and a total ‘getaway from it all’ vibe, then choose a different kind of stay at a luxury three bedroom house which is a ‘Balinese Paradise +Marina Views’ on Airbnb. It’s a gloriously designed three bedroom home with a private pool, tiered landscaped garden leading down to your own waterfront jetty on the water. Just 5 mins drive from the city – See our review here

About the author

Karen’s corporate job back in the UK had included entertaining clients in some of the best restaurants. This ultimately sparked a curiosity 'Just how do they do that?' (she confesses she was brought up on meat and vegetables, so this was all very exciting). Currently a Mr & Mrs Smith 'Tastemaker', she’s flashpacked around the world, learning about wine, experiencing different cultures and cuisines and had a two- year love affair with it all. Originally from England, she finally settled in Australia and continues to be besotted by food, wine and travel preferring to focus on the luxury end of town (thread count does matter).


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